WRiTE CLUB 2016 - Playoff Round 1


We started with 95, narrowed it down to 30, cut it in half to 15, and now there is only 6 writers left.  It's play-off time in WRiTE CLUB!

Our six writers will again enter the ring, this time against a different (randomly selected) opponent, and brandishing a new 500 word writing sample. The bouts will be posted once a day...ending Wednesday...with the voting remaining open until noon central time on Sunday, April 10th.

Here's a reminder of how everything works. Writing samples from two different writers, identified only by the craftily selected pen names of the respective submitters, are competing against one another today. The writing can be from any genre, any age group, taken either from a larger piece of work or simply a stand alone flash fiction. The focus is on the writing...not the writer...or its categorization.

The winner of each contest is chosen by you...the reader.  Simply read each entry and leave your vote in the comment section below.  Anyone can vote, as long as you have a Google ID or belong to Google Friend Connect. Anonymous voting is not allowed. It is customary to leave a brief critique for all the pieces. You see, the comments are where the true value of this contest makes itself known. Not only do the contestants gain valuable insight about their work from those remarks, but everybody can benefit from how each piece is received and what works...and what doesn't. Please remember to remain respectful with your comments. If you see an opportunity for improvement, make it known in the most positive way possible.

How do you choose a winner? What criteria should be used? The method by which you determine who to vote for is entirely up to you.  Which one resonates with you the most? Which one makes you want to read more? Which one demonstrates a total command of the English language and how it can be used to elicit emotion or paint a mental picture you can't stop staring at. There is no hard and fast way rules for determining a winner -- and that's exactly what the publishing world is like. But today you get to decide.

What's at stake here? Other than bragging rights, there's also a chance to win free admission to the 2017 DFW Writers Conference.



Your voting has an added significance because not only will the three winners move onto to the next round, the submission that does not win their bout but tally's the most votes among the losers will move forward as a wildcard selection as well.

Ready to help an aspiring writer make their mark?  It's time to introduce our contestants and get this party started.

Writer #1 is representing the Adult Short Story genre with 499 words. Please give a warm welcome to BonsaiBabe.





A twig snapped. His arm twitched, clanking the barrel painfully against his mouth. He sucked at his bloodied lip as he hid the gun under his leg and twisted around.

A girl, roughly his own age, stood nearby. Brown hair framed her mostly plain face. She stared at him for several moments.

"What are you doing?" she asked. He tested her tone for signs of fear and found none. She simply seemed curious, as if there were plenty of perfectly good reasons for him to sit in the bushes with a gun.

"Nothing." He turned away. "Go away. I want to be alone."

"Okay," she said as she crouched down. "What a great view."

"Seriously, you should go."

"Okay." Again, she made no move to leave. Turning to him, she added, "You're in my English class. I loved that poem—about the last leaf on the tree? Epic.”

"Are you crazy?" Aaron asked. He held up the gun. "You did see I have a gun, right? Why won't you go away? What if I shoot you?"

The girl dismissed the gun with a glance. "That's a lot of questions." She held up a finger for each answer. "My mom certainly thinks so. Yes, I did. I like it here. And ... you won't."

She waited for him to parse her response. Finally, he asked, "How can you know?"

"I've seen you around school. You're not that kind of person." She paused to trace a series of circles in the dirt between them. "So. I saw what happened yesterday," she said. "After school."

Aaron frowned. "Why don't you just mind your own business? I can take care of myself."

"Clearly," the girl replied. The collection of circles continued to grow.

Aaron said nothing. He would just have to wait her out. His feet started to fall asleep, so he sat down with his legs stretched in front of him. The girl did the same. Circles appeared and disappeared under her hand. Minutes passed.

It should have been awkward, yet it wasn't. Eventually, Aaron asked, "Don't you have somewhere you need to be?"

"Don't you?" the girl countered.

"Fair enough."

More silence.

"Did you really like the poem?" he asked.

"Yep."

Just as confidently as she had sat down, the girl stood up. "Well, this was nice. I've got to get going. Thanks for the company."

Aaron scrambled to his feet. "You're leaving?"

"Yeah," she said. "I've got a test third period."

"Wait ... um ..." Aaron tripped over the words. She waited. "It's just ... I don't even know your name."

The girl smiled. "Maybe if you show up in English this afternoon, you'll find out." She looked at the gun, forgotten by his side. He flicked the safety on.

She raised her eyes to his. "I'll see you later then." It wasn't a question. She gave a little wave and walked away without looking back.

Aaron sat down again. The warmth of the sun on his back felt good.
____________________________________________________________________________________


Writer #2 represents the Adult Thriller genre with 500 words. Please welcome back into the arena Hunley.






Nobody talks to the fourth man in our Humvee, the one sitting in the back beside our platoon leader, the one who hasn’t said a word since we left base this morning. He’s the only one not wearing combat gear. Which is not to make the Humvee less crowded. We just don’t have armor to spare for prisoners.

He’s what has us all on edge, every one of us in this convoy.

It’s not bad enough that we’re escorting a gaggle of UN inspectors and their local interpreter, each one of them individually a pain in the ass. Not enough that our mission is to investigate another report of mass graves left behind by the insurgency, an insurgency that keeps coming back to life like a many-headed monster. No, like all that’s not enough to make my scars itch, we have to have this guide who’s the most messed up excuse for a human being we’ve come across. And we’ve come across plenty.

We found him starved and hallucinating after the last engagement. Psychotic break, the medics said. He couldn’t even tell us his name. We call him Aussie Ahmad because when he does talk, it’s with an Australian accent strong enough to curdle the cream in your coffee.

We only hang onto him because he claims to know where all the bodies are buried, so many bodies they have the UN team practically drooling over all the evidence they can take to a war crimes tribunal. Ahmad knows we won’t get rid of him as long as he’s so good at finding bodies. And he’s been turning them up like a regular cadaver dog.

When the road gets too rough even for Humvees, we pile out, with me in charge of Ahmad.

“There.” He points to a hill a couple of klicks away. “There are the bones. Lots and lots of bones. You’ll like them, Sergeant Devil.”

“What’s that Sergeant D-devil shit?” Our stuttering platoon leader again.

He’s asked that question before and I’ve answered it before, but I answer it again. “It’s his nickname for me, sir. Because of my scars.”

Or is it because of something else he senses about me? Something that makes me feel as off-kilter to him as he feels to all of us?

Our bomb-sniffing dog and her handler move to the front, following Ahmad’s directions, with me at his side.

The dog looks happy. She’ll find booby traps and get to play with her rubber reward toy. Or she won’t find anything and she’ll just have a nice stroll through the countryside. Probably her dog mind can’t wrap itself around the possibility of a bomb made of chemicals she hasn’t been trained on. Or that we might run into a nest of active shooters instead of dead bodies. Or any of a million other bad things that could happen.

“Must be nice to be a dog,” I say.

Nice to be a dog and not have any worries.


______________________________________________________________________________________


Enjoying a pair of talented writers at work is only part of the price of admission, now it’s up to you to decide who moves forward.  Read both pieces, choose the one you feel is superior, then say so in the comments below and provide a mini-critique for each if you haven't already done so.

Please tell all of your friends to stop by and make a selection as well.  Tweet about it, and if you do please use the hashtag #WRiTECLUB2016.

Remember, this is WRiTE CLUB, where it’s not about the last man/woman standing, but who knocks the audience out!


36 comments

  1. Hunley has my vote. I was pulled in and felt like I was there. I felt distance in the other piece.

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  2. First, congrats to both writers on making it to this round!

    BonsaiBabe gets my vote. I appreciate that it's following your first piece, I appreciate that it's wrapped up the sample nicely. I like your writing, and the interaction between the two characters. NOW I'm ready to follow the story through to completion (where I wasn't before with your first piece).

    Hunley's piece has an interesting twist this time. I wonder if there's going to be a supernatural twist at some point, and I'd like to read more. The reason Hunley isn't getting my vote is because the last two sentences feel like what I do when I don't know how to end a scene - just kind of toss in a trailing off thing, and hope to fix it later. That may not be what it is, but with two such awesome samples, it was my dividing line.

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  3. Ooh, new writing samples!

    My vote is for Bonsaibabe. This is definitely a continuation of before, obviously in story, but also in terms of sharp, compact description. In just a few words, we get a real emotionally-tinted sense of what's going on.

    Hunley's excerpt I like more than his last one. I like that we now have a little bit of action rather than just a discussion. What I don't like is that, while it definitely conjures up emotions, it does so almost entirely with telling rather than any showing. It's good telling, like a charming person sitting there telling you about their story (not that charming I guess since his story is death and war), but it's still not really descriptive writing. Things like "he's what's had us on edge" - show us that. And "We're here to investigate mass graves" - show us (you do later, so why tell us?). It definitely reads like somebody telling me a story in person. Which I think is what draws some people in, but for me it pulls me out because I am imagining being told things rather than imagining living them.

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  4. BonsaiBabe gets my vote.

    BonsaiBabe: I love the way the writing captured the awkwardness yet significance of this interaction. The writing is lovely. You've expressed so much emotion in such a simple interaction, ending with a small piece of hope.

    Hunley: I found the writing here too choppy. Again, I'm not entirely sure what's going on in this piece. I liked your first piece better. This piece has more action, but less development of character, setting, and tone.

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  5. I enjoyed both pieces. Such talent. It's obvious why these two writers made it this far.

    BonsaiBabe gets my vote. I had an emotional connection to your characters, an amazing accomplishment in such a short piece.

    Hunley's piece was also excellent. Even if I hadn't read the first piece, I knew where I was and what was happening. Well done. It's a shame to have to choose.

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  6. Congratulations to both writers. It's agony having to choose.

    But I will give it to Hunley, because I feel a more seamless connection from the first to the second section.

    The contest is a bit unfair on BonsaiBabe, who had one the two best concepts in the whole field (in my opinion). But I honestly can't tell whether this is the end of the short story or not.

    And I wasn't prepared for the MC to surrender to the girl's tactics so easily. The interaction comes a bit close to what in the romance genre is called a "meet cute." Could we be made to feel a little queasier at the outset? Could there be a little more doubt about whether the girl can change the MC's outlook?

    Regardless, I'd love to see more of BonsaiBabe's writing. (Hunley's, too, of course.)

    So I wonder--at the end, is there a way we can follow the contestants we've enjoyed meeting at the WRiTE CLUB?

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  7. I wanted to vote for Hunley so bad because the first piece was my favorite of the competition, but this piece was just so much telling. I want to read more of this story so much, but this excerpt didn't hook me as much as the first round entry.

    BonsaiBabe was the more engaging piece even if I typically would read Hunley's subject matter.

    Today was so hard to choose!
    BonsaiBabe gets my vote on writing alone, but Hunley needs to keep writing. I would love buy your book some day.

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  8. Huntley gets my vote. I couldn't quite buy into the events playing out as they did in Bonsai Babe but that is probably due to the word count constraint. Congrats to both writers.

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  9. Bonsai babe gets my vote. I love how you take a potentially dangerous situation and diffuse it with hope. Your voice is clear and your writing excellent.
    Huntley- I loved your first piece ( one of my favorites) but this didn't flow as well for me. I agree that there was a little too much telling. Also, description like scars itching felt a little repetitive. I still really like your mc and would definitely want to know what happens next.

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  10. That awful point when two writers I've voted for earlier go head to head. I'm going with Hunley. I like the twist.

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  11. Voting for Hunley. Though it was more telling than your first sample, I got a clear impression of the scene and characters. It still feels quite real. Strong voice. I still want more. The sudden appearance of the dog was a bit jarring - she wasn't in the vehicle before?

    Bonsai: I got lost - he's sitting in the bushes, then sits again when his feet go to sleep? A lot of generic nouns: gun, bushes, view, dirt... etc. Stronger specifics (Ruger, hollies, mountaintops, red clay) will make it more immediate and real. The emotional turnaround, though there was some time passing, felt a little too pat and convenient.

    Congrats to both for making it this far.

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  12. My vote goes to Hunley.

    Bonsai Babe read a little choppy in the section.

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  13. Hunley gets my vote.

    Bonsai Babe's piece lost me with the girl's recall of the rapid questions, in order. It didn't feel realistic. And the pacing was very staccato. The story itself was nice, though, with solid heart.

    Hunley's piece was more solid and fleshed out. There was more telling than showing vs. Hunley's first piece (which I felt had a perfect balance of both), but I still felt it was strong. And I was utterly suckered into the cleverness of it being a continuation/sequel to Hunley's first piece. Well played!

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  14. This is a tough one. BonsaiBabe's writing was better than Hunley's, but Hunley's story intrigues me more. After much internal debate...

    I vote for HUNLEY. While I've never been in a situation like that... it felt more real to me. My piece of advice is that there was too much repetition of words, phrases, description. The ending (last 2 lines) can also use a little bit of work. It seemed to have ended without really leaving me wanting to know what happens next, HOWEVER, I do want to know what happens next from previous paragraphs in the story.

    For Bonsai Babe... like what another person said, it was too "meet cute" for me. It would've been nicer if we didn't know whether the MC will meet her in that next class or not. That would make me want to read more and hope her moment of connection with him changed his mind. But, I'm much more into darker stories/endings, which is why I feel this way.

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  15. My vote goes with Hunley today. I want to know more. Maybe it is just me, but I would love to hear more about the subject. The MC intrigues me.

    BonsaiBabe was great, but my vote goes to Hunley by the barest of margins.

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  16. Bonsai Babe for me. Loved the way an entire story with multiple layers was told in just a few words.

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  17. My vote goes to Bonsaibabe because the excerpt held my attention slightly more than Hunley's.

    Bonsaibabe: I had a little difficulty believing that the girl would not be scared, and felt that there needed to be something else--maybe something specifically that happened between them to make her trust him--to bring me in even more. However, with the word limit, perhaps there wasn't enough room.

    Hunley: I like your premise, but agreed with the others that the telling did pull me out of the piece slightly.

    Great job to both writers and congratulations for getting this far! Thank you for sharing!

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  18. BonsaiBabe gets my vote.

    BonsaiBabe could have used a little more world-building phrases to ground us in the setting. Are we on the school grounds? Or is the bush in a neighborhood? But I was hooked and wanted to find out why he had a gun and who this girl who just difused a very dangerous situation.

    Hunley tripped me up a few times understanding who Ahmad was and what was going on. Especially the bit about the dog. I thought for a moment that Ahmad was being called a dog, and Sargent Devil was comparing himself to a handler, because of the similar imagry just before that passage.

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  19. Vote: BonsaiBabe

    I felt I could understand this as a story better than the first piece. It flowed well and I enjoyed it all the way through. I don't think it's unrealistic that the protag could be changed so easily, especially if he's a younger child.

    Hunley: I had a little bit of a hard time with the flow of the story. I agree with others when they say telling not showing. Your last paragraph is a perfect example. You gave all these good examples of a happy dog, what they wouldn't care about and then a little snippet of dialogue "Must be nice to be a dog." I feel you should have ended it there. Instead the next line TELLS us what the protag meant, I think the reader would have figured it out.

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  20. My vote goes to BonsaiBabe. I thought the piece was an emotional powerhouse of great writing. Hope that doesn't sound too cheesy... I'm becoming a big fan of BonsaiBabe's writing and would also like to know if there is a way to follow the writers after the competition ends.

    Hunley - this was a good continuation of your first piece but some parts felt a little flat to me and my interest in the MC started to wane.

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  21. BonsaiBabe - I like that she saved him without flat out, blatant, "I'm here to save you" saving. But I couldn't "see" her in my mind (though maybe that's intentional, because he's never taken the time to "see" her either?).

    Hunley- I really enjoyed the ending. All of this felt especially real to me, like we're invading this soldiers thoughts, or have been invited to them- either or, it's enough to earn you my vote.

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  22. My vote goes to Hunley. I like them both a lot. There's just a tad more voice and tension in Hunley's piece. Although I am intrigued by the other - I would read on with both. Nice job guys, and good luck.

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  23. I figured it would be BonsaiBabe for me for sure but I was slightly disappointed that the change from 'something really bad is about to happen' to 'things are okay after all' happened so quickly.
    I didn't find Hunley's writing as telly as other's did(maybe a tad but not all telling is bad).
    My vote goes to Hunley.

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  24. I read these last night and couldn't decide as they were both great. When I came back today BonsaiBabe was the story I remembered the best - so my vote goes to BonsaiBabe today.

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  25. Congrats to both and thanks for sharing more of your writing with us!

    BonsaiBabe: I am relieved to know that things didn't continue as they seemed they would based on the first passage. I like this excerpt for what it says about the power of a positive connection between people. I am a sucker for things like that. I wish I could see more of this story, because this excerpt leaves me feeling like there's a lot I don't know. Darn 500 word limit!

    Hunley: I know it's not possible to show us in the space allowed (and maybe you do this elsewhere in your story), but I'd want to see a whole scene of them escorting the annoying inspectors around. I'd like the whole scene of them finding Ahmad during his psychotic break. These are both opportunities to be dramatic and funny and then you wouldn't have to tell us they happened. We'd already have seen it. I, personally, liked the bit about the dog. I keep waiting for the "thriller" part to show up.

    My vote goes to BonsaiBabe.

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  26. My vote goes to Bonsaibabe. I was somewhat interested in hearing the continuation of the story after the first piece, but now you have me hooked. I want to keep reading. Your writing has given me an emotional connection to the characters in your story and it didn’t take much; just a simple conversation.

    Hunley’s story just didn’t hold my interest like Bonsaibabe’s did. There was something off with the flow of the story.

    I hope after this competition there is a way to continue following these writers. I am interested in hearing the whole story!

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  27. I was hooked on Bonsai's opening from the previous round but here it definitely lost me. More than once the physical mechanics of the scene did not make logical sense to me and the dialogue all sounded random as if the author does not know these characters well or has a clear idea what is supposed to be achieved here. If this had been a fresh writing prompt I would applaud it but I came here expecting edited ripened work. I wonder if my expectations were flawed.

    From Hunley's piece I absorbed some texture and some humor. It felt far more real. If I can be finicky I would have rather learned more info from action/dialogue/description than from the narrator's ruminations but it might be petty to consider that within the context of one small excerpt. Overall I find this narrator is one of the most trustworthy of the W.C. tournament. I vote Hunley without a doubt.

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  28. Yeah I liked the voice of Bonsai Babe.
    Hunley still doesn't ring true to me.

    Vote: Bonsai Babe

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  29. BonsaiBabe: The writing is great again, and this time, with this new piece, I really like the story as well.
    Hunley: I'm still not crazy about this story, and there are some errors.

    I'm voting for BonsaiBabe.

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  30. Hunley: There is a little more action this time, but still not enough to get me excited. I can't really tell where the story is going, if anywhere. The writing is better than the first piece, but there are still some errors.
    BonsaiBabe: Excellent writing as before, but this time the story line doesn't make me want to vomit. The fact that you can take the darkest possible story line and illuminate it with a ray of hope, and do it all in a believable manner, is quite impressive.

    Definitely voting for BonsaiBabe.

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  31. BonsaiBabe has an interesting twist, but the format/grammar errors are distracting.

    Still like Hunley - that gets my vote.

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  32. BonsaiBabe - definitely pulled me in right away and kept me wanting to know more.

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